The Conspiracy

Adam Sandler’s Take on Why Chanukkah Happened


This week has been a little hectic, with Chanukkah and the end of classes (next week is a well-deserved break), so before I get into relaxation mode, here are a few thoughts related to the holiday season inspired by various Chanukkah-themed classes this week.

Different classes have highlighted the fact that Chanukkah is unique in the Jewish calendar in that the holiday’s origins are both debated and later than other holidays. Looking at sources from the Talmud onwards, it is clear that there is a tension between basing the holiday on the military victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks versus basing it on the miracle of the single jug of oil, which burned for seven extra days.

Another way this debate has been handled is through the songs traditionally associated with the holiday, from Maoz Tzur and Mi Yemalel to Adam Sandler’s Hannukah Song and the recently ‘viral’ (at least in the Jewish world) Candlelight. By looking at the different focuses of the songs of each time period — especially examining the more recent musical incarnations in order to understand how young Jews look at the holiday today as a comparison to Christmas — shows just how malleable this holiday has been. All Jewish holidays undoubtedly acquire new meaning as time moves on, but Chanukkah seems to be in the lead on that front.

Regarding the cultural aspects of the story of Chanukkah, assimilation, and its perils, resonate strongly in modern day. Assimilation appears in the Chanukkah story in its association with a descent into a spiritual morass from which the Maccabees had to save the rest of the Jewish people. In the 21st century, especially in North America, Jews have never been so assimilated, nor so successful in mainstream culture. But to deny that Jews have been assimilating to some extent — as is inevitable — at all points during their history, is dishonest.

Finally, on a metaphorical level, as Adam Sandler says: “Chanukkah is the festival of lights.” A common Jewish motif is that of being a “light unto the nations” which Chanukkah exemplifies with the lighting of the Chanukkia being the central ritual practice of the holiday. However, how can a group of people — any group of people — be so audacious as to suppose that it is their task to spread wisdom to other people, implying that they have some special access to wisdom?

I hope this will be the first of many years when I get to chance to internalize some of the deeper meanings behind a holiday that is too often seen as materialistic in focus.

Benjamin Barer is studying at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, one of Masa Israel’s 180 programs.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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University of Boulder lights the Hanukkah candles. • After two weeks of lobbying by both Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights...

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